Volume 33 - Issue 2

Salvation History, Chronology, and Crisis:1 A Problem with Inclusivist Theology of Religions, Part 1

By Adam Sparks


A fundamental requirement in an inclusivist understanding of the relationship between Christianity and other religions is evidence of God's salvific activity outside of any knowledge of Christ. Evidence for such redemptive activity is commonly identified (rightly) in the people of Old Testament Israel.


A fundamental requirement in an inclusivist understanding of the relationship between Christianity and other religions is evidence of God’s salvific activity outside of any knowledge of Christ. Evidence for such redemptive activity is commonly identified (rightly) in the people of Old Testament Israel. On this basis an analogy (the ‘Israel analogy’) is drawn between these Old Testament believers and contemporary followers of other religions. The Israel analogy relies on a correspondence between what is chronologically pre-messianic (Israel) and epistemologically pre-messianic (other religions), and in so doing considers the ‘b.c. condition’ to continue today. This two-part essay maintains that the analogy undermines the significance of the Christ-event in the unfolding plan of redemption by failing to appreciate the decisive effect of this event on history. The Christ-event is the midpoint of salvation history and is of universal significance for all space and time and for all people living both before and after the Christ-event itself.


A fundamental requirement in an inclusivist understanding3 of the relationship between Christianity and other religions is the evidence of God’s salvific activity outside of any knowledge of Christ. Evidence for such redemptive activity is commonly identified (rightly) in the people of Old Testament Israel. On this basis an analogy (hereafter referred to as the ‘Israel analogy’) is drawn between these Old Testament believers and contemporary followers of other religions. The Israel analogy, briefly stated, suggests this: Because God has clearly worked redemptively in the people of Old Testament Israel, who had no direct knowledge of Christ, we can analogically assume he is also at work redemptively in the people of other religions now who have no knowledge of Christ.
Closely related is the parallel argument in fulfilment theology: Because Christ fulfils the Old Testament, he can also be seen as the fulfilment of other scriptures and other faiths. This also requires an analogical application of the relationship between Old and New Covenants to other religions. A leading proponent of such a view is the Roman Catholic theologian Jacques Dupuis. He believes we should consider whether

the history of other peoples cannot play for them, in the order of salvation, a role ‘analogous’ to that played for the Hebrew people by the history of Israel, as comprising historical events whose divine salvific significance is guaranteed by a prophetic word. . . . Israel and Christianity obviously represent a singular case, owing to the unique relationship existing between the two religions; however . . . it may furnish, mutatis mutandis, an emblematic model for the relationship between Christianity and other religions.4

For Dupuis the relationship between Judaism and Christianity serves ‘as a catalyst for the reorientation of the relationship between Christianity and the other religions’.5

Thus, the Israel analogy and fulfilment model rely on a correspondence between the chronologically pre-messianic (Israel) and the epistemologically pre-messianic (other religions), and in so doing consider the ‘b.c. condition’ to continue today (at least for certain groups of people). However, I suggest that the Israel analogy and fulfilment model undermine the significance of the Christ-event in the unfolding plan of redemption by failing to appreciate the decisive effect of this event on history and the nature of existence. In a similar way, the fulfilment model views fulfilment as an ongoing process continuing after the Christ-event. It considers the historical and teleological relationship between the Old and New Testaments to be less than fully decisive in how fulfilment can be interpreted. It does not require there to be a historical or chronological relationship between what is fulfilled (the contemporary religion) and the fulfiller (Christ) and therefore undermines the radical transition from ‘b.c.’ to ‘a.d.’ In this article I will argue that the Christ-event is the midpoint of the unfolding salvation history and is of universal significance for all space and time and for all people living both before and after the Christ-event itself. Therefore, the concept of a continuing ‘pre-Messianic’ condition or state is seriously flawed, and should not be employed in developing an understanding of the relationship of other religions to Christianity.

This essay has two parts. Part 1 expounds the Christological orientation of salvation history, and part 2 assesses the implications of this salvation-historical approach for the analogy made between the chronologically pre-messianic and epistemologically pre-messianic.

1. Christ Is the Midpoint of Salvation History6
1.1. An Eternal Purpose and a Mystery Revealed in the Fullness of Time

The concept of Salvation History or the History of Redemption (Heilsgeschichte) is accepted in Reformed theology as an important framework for understanding the continuity of Old and New Testaments and the progressive nature of revelation.7 The approach is characterised by its emphasis on the historical and theological continuity of the Testaments.8 Such continuity and unity does not preclude elements of discontinuity and diversity, but the diversity that exists is complementary to that unity.9
The times and ages of redemptive history have been ordained by God from eternity in his divine decree.10 This decree establishes God’s ultimate intention for the world and his means of accomplishing this, thus giving a fundamental unity to the plan of redemption, for the whole created order ultimately serves this purpose.11 Ephesians 3:11 refers to this ‘eternal purpose’ (πρθεσιν των ανων) with an adjective in the genitive case, indicating that there was never a time when God’s plan with all of its parts was not fully determined.12 The same verse states that this eternal purpose is realized in Jesus Christ (cf. Eph 1:9). ‘Here we learn that God’s eternal plan, which governs all his ways and works in heaven and on earth, he purposed to fulfil in Christ. Christ, as God’s Alpha and Omega, is at the beginning, the center and the end of his eternal purpose’.13 The outworking of God’s eternal purpose is governed by his providential superintending activity over the created order and history, bringing creation to its divinely determined goal. All God’s providential work is mediated through Christ (Col 1:16–17; Heb 1:3).14 From the very beginning God has ordered events toward Christ and his redemptive work. Indeed, the covenant of redemption precedes even the fall.15

Christ is the midpoint of the history of redemption. His death and resurrection are the unsurpassable and unrepeatable point of crisis, the ‘omega-point’.16 This historical reality has enormous theological import, for all history is to be understood and judged in light of this crisis. The centre of redemption in the period before the Christ-event is the future hope of the promised Messiah, and the centre of redemption after Christ’s death and resurrection is the past event. Therefore, the Christ-event is of constitutive significance for all history and time. What was achieved by Christ through his life, death, and resurrection cannot be divorced from what came before or after it. In any theological scheme therefore, the historical unfolding of events must be respected because these events follow a course decreed by God from eternity and each is but a part of the one overarching purpose.17

The death and resurrection of Christ is the centre of redemptive history inaugurating a period of radical newness which cannot be overstated, for the Christ-event is the ultimate eschatological event.18 Jesus is the mediator of a divine act of redemption, the Centre and End of all history, because in him the eternal God has entered time, and in so doing has revealed the ‘mystery’ of the ages (Rom 16:25–26; Col 1:26; 2:2–3; Eph 1:9–10; 3:4–5; 1 Cor 2:7; 2 Tim 1:9–10; Tit 1:2–3). This ‘mystery’ (μυστριον) should not be understood as a secret revealed to a few intimates, but rather ‘in connection with the hidden counsel of God in relation to his redemptive work in history’.19 David Wells explains:

In the New Testament, ‘mystery’ is typically associated with what is revealed and proclaimed (1 Tim. 3:9), never with what is obscure and unknown. The chief mystery is Christ (1 Cor. 2:2), promised long ago (1 Cor. 1:19), by whom the Gentiles now gain access to the Father (Eph. 3:14–15), and to whom Paul was bound in service (1 Cor. 9:16). To associate this mystery with the unknown rather than the known would be . . . to render God unthinkable.20

Thus, in addition to the noetic aspect, there is a historical connotation to the mystery revealed. It is that which for a time had not yet appeared, but is then made known.21 The dawning of the messianic age in the ‘fullness of time’ (πλρωμα τουχρνου, Gal 4:4, cf. Eph 1:10), also testifies to the important historical transformation that occurred with the Christ-event. The fullness of time centres on Christ as Messiah. When the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son. At the appropriate moment the old age ended and the new age was ushered in. The age of the Law had run its course to be superseded by the age of the Spirit, inaugurated by the accomplishment of Christ’s redemptive work.22 The term ‘fullness’ suggests, states A. A. Hoekema, the thought of fulfilment, of bringing to completion: ‘from the Old Testament perspective, the New Testament era is the time of fulfillment’.23 This fulfilment is not only historical but profoundly teleological. As Herman Ridderbos asserts, it is ‘not only the maturation of a specific matter in the great framework of redemptive history, but the fulfillment of the time in an absolute sense’.24 The new age actually arrives in Christ as the first fruits of a full cosmic salvation.25

Similarly, Geerhardus Vos observes that the fullness of time means more than that the time was ripe for the introduction of Christ into the world: ‘the fullness of the time means the end of that aeon and the commencement of another world-period’.26 This new ‘world-period’ is unfolding in two stages: (1) the present age, starting with the resurrection, and (2) the age to come, consummated by Christ’s return. However, the two stages should not be seen as separate, for the New Testament’s outlook is that the Messiah’s coming is one (eschatological) coming which unfolds in two episodes, one already having happened, and one still to come. However, the Age-to-Come had already dawned.27

The Messianic Age is divided into two parts—the first supervening upon and overlapping the historical process, and ushered in by the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; the second, the eternal and otherworldly consummation of what has already been begun, ushered in by the second advent of the exalted Messiah who had been appointed by God to judge the quick and the dead.28

The eschatological in-breaking has commenced, and with it there is not only a horizontal/chronological transformation, but also one that Michael Horton describes as vertical/cataclysmic.29 The resurrection is the crucial sign that the ‘last days’ are here.30

According to Richard Gaffin:

The clearest, most explicit biblical warrant for this fundamental redemptive-historical, history-of-revelation construct is the overarching assertion with which Hebrews begins (1:1–2a). . . . ‘Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son’.31

Therefore, the manifestation of Jesus Christ is not in the first place made known as a ‘noetic piece of information, but has happened as an historical event’.32 For that reason it should not be construed primarily as an existential matter but an historical-eschatological event with cosmic significance.33 This fact will be seen to be of decisive significance for this article as it proceeds.

1.2. Cosmic Atonement

The works of God-in-Christ in the creation and in the new creation are necessarily cosmic in extent. So too, I suggest, is Christ’s atonement: his incarnation, death, and resurrection. Herman Bavinck rightly argues that if Christ is the incarnate Word, then the incarnation is the central fact of the entire history of the world, and it must have been prepared from eternity and have its effects throughout eternity.34 Similarly, Ridderbos contends that in Paul’s theology resurrection is nothing less that the counterpart of creation. The resurrection of Christ is the beginning of the new and final world-order, an order described as spiritual and heavenly. It is the dawn of the new creation, the start of the eschatological age. In terms of the conceptual framework with which Paul view the whole of history, it is the commencement of the ‘age-to-come’.35 Nothing is the same after the cross. Karl Barth appreciated this:

The human speaking and acting and suffering and triumphing of this one man directly concerns us all, and his history is our history of salvation which changes the whole human situation, just because God himself is its human subject in His Son.36

A distinction between creation and redemption must be preserved, but because God’s purpose from before the foundation of the world is one and the same purpose, it is important not to completely dissociate redemption from creation.37 Bavinck rightly maintains that the incarnation, aside from its rootedness in the Trinity, also has its presupposition and preparation in the creation.38 Oliver O’Donovan highlights the cosmic reach of redemption, seeing it as the recovery of something given and lost:

At the same time, however, we must go beyond thinking of redemption as a mere restoration, the return of a status quo ante. The redemption of the world, and of mankind, does not serve only to put us back in the Garden of Eden where we began. It leads us on to that further destiny to which, even in the Garden of Eden, we were already directed. For the creation was given to us with its own goal and purpose, so that the outcome of the world’s story cannot be a cyclical return to the beginnings, but must fulfil that purpose in the freeing of creation from its ‘futility’ (Rom 8:20).39

This eschatological transformation ‘is neither the mere repetition of the created world nor its negation. It is its fulfilment, its telos, or end’.40 Therefore, while a fundamental connection between creation and redemption is recognised, aspects of continuity and discontinuity must both be acknowledged. They are inseparable, for Christ is the agent of creation and new creation (Eph 1:10, Col 1:15–20). Creation itself has a Christological focus, and it anticipates a telos.41 The plan of God the Father involves Jesus the Son as the cosmic redeemer. The Garden of Eden is a prototype of the world planned by God, and the new creation will be superior to the original creation. Christ is the very purpose of God’s creation, and the incarnation was in view when God created the world. Creation is therefore the beginning or the preamble of the history of redemption. As O. Palmer Robertson explains:

The very words that pronounce the curse of the covenant of creation also inaugurate the covenant of redemption. From the very outset God intends by the covenant of redemption to realize for man those blessings originally defaulted under the covenant of creation.42

The impact of the incarnation and resurrection is not limited to a small section of time and space but is of universal significance. As Thomas Torrance states,

Through Jesus Christ there takes place a restoration of man’s proper interaction both with the Creator and the creation, for in Christ a creative centre of healing and integration has been set up within the structure and destiny of human contingent being, which cannot but affect the whole created order with which man has to do.43

Indeed, such is the significance of the incarnation and resurrection, that they can be equated to the act of creation itself. In the incarnation, God the creator, the transcendent one, has himself become a creature within time and space.44 Jonathan Edwards describes the incarnation in these terms:

Christ’s incarnation was a greater and more wonderful thing than ever had yet come to pass. The creation of the world was a very great thing, but not so great as the incarnation of Christ. It was a great thing for God to make the creature, but not so great as for the Creator himself to become a creature.45

In a similar way, the resurrection signifies an event which even surpasses God’s original creative activity. The resurrection is also the work of the creator, now himself incarnate and at work in fallen creation. It takes place in space and time, in physical and historical existence. However, the New Testament indicates, states Torrance, that it is

not merely a great event upon the plane of history, but an act that breaks into history with the powers of another world. It is akin to the creation in the beginning; and the Gospel is the good news that God is creating a new world. . . . Such a resurrection of the incarnate Word of God within the creation of time and space which came into being through him is inevitably an event of cosmic and unbelievable magnitude. So far as the temporal dimension of creation is concerned, it means that the transformation of all things at the end of time is already impinging upon history, and indeed that the consummation of history has already been inaugurated. And so far as the spatial dimension of creation is concerned, it means that the new creation has already set in, so that all things visible and invisible are even now in the grip of the final recreation of the universe. The resurrection of Jesus heralds an entirely new age in which a universal resurrection or transformation of heaven and earth will take place, or rather has already begun to take place, for with the resurrection of Jesus that new world has already broken into the midst of the old.46

Thus, the renovation of the entire universe is grounded in the death and resurrection of Christ. In this once-for-all triumph of the cross, a new situation has been created objectively in history, independent of the circumstances of individuals.47 The decisive battle has been fought and the ultimate outcome is sure.48 The resurrection is a deed ‘so decisively new’ that the whole of creation existing both before and after the cross is affected.49 It has a ‘creative and constitutive character, and as such cannot but transform our understanding of the whole relation of God to the universe of things visible and invisible, present and future’.50

1.3. Historical Atonement

To present the Christ-Event as an event of cosmic and eternal significance should not be interpreted as portraying the historical dimension as less important. There is a profound paradox at the heart of this matter. The eternal, transcendent God enters time and space at a particular place and time, but in such a way that affects all time and space.51 Reformed theology recognises both the eternal and historical dimensions of the atonement. The drama of redemption began in eternity, before history (2 Cor 8:9; Gal 4:4; Phil 2:5–8; Heb 2:17; 5:5–6).52 Christ was our mediator even before his condescension in human form, but his saving work was not accomplished until the cross. It is his death that is atoning.53 John Murray declares that the incarnation and the redemption wrought are both historical events. The atonement is historically objective in character, it is not ‘supra-historical nor is it contemporary’.54 However, Murray rightly recognises that Jesus Christ is above history ‘as regards his deity and eternal Sonship’.55 He is eternal and transcends all conditions and circumstances of time. But the atonement was made in human nature and at a ‘particular time in the past and finished calendar of events’.56

History with its fixed appointments and well-defined periods has significance in the drama of divine accomplishment. The historical conditioning and locating of events in time cannot be erased nor their significance under-estimated.57

The cross is the intersection of the divine and the human, the eternal and the temporal. Although it was a once-and-for-all particular event in the space-time continuum, it was also a once-and-for-all event in an absolutely decisive sense. The cross derives from and is grounded in the eternal love of God. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself.58

Therefore, the effect of the atonement cannot be limited to one strand of subsequent history, namely that which is coextensive with the Church or knowledge of the gospel. Redemption has been accomplished concretely through the objective act of Christ crucified and raised. It is a historical reality, and not one that occurs contemporaneously through an existential encounter with the gospel.59 The ontological basis for all salvation is the grace ‘given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time’ but revealed historically in his incarnation (2 Tim 1:9–10; Titus 1:2). The work of Christ has a ‘timeless efficacy that renders its benefits potentially and retroactively operative for all people of true faith, whatever their time or place’.60

Torrance helpfully elucidates the relationship of the eternal and the historical, the divine and the human, atonement and incarnation:

[W]e must think of the incarnation as the eternal Word and the eternal Act of God become human word and human act without ceasing to be divine, moving and operating creatively and redemptively within the space and time of our world in the acutely personalised form of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is surely in this way that we are to understand the teaching of the New Testament that the Lord Jesus Christ is himself our justification, redemption, mediation and propitiation; he is himself the resurrection and the life—he who is, who was and who is to come, the incarnate I am of the ever-living God. His incarnate life as the one Lord and Saviour of the world and his atoning work on the cross and in the resurrection cannot be separated from one another. Incarnation and atonement intrinsically locked into one another constitute the one continuous movement of God’s saving love for the world. Therein lies the absolute singularity of Christ, but therein also lies the absolute finality of the Cross.61

Therefore, the Christ-event is of constitutive significance for the atonement. It is not merely a demonstration of God’s redemptive will, but the means of redemption. As Calvin put it, the love of the Father is the ‘efficient cause’; the obedience of the Son, the ‘material cause’; and the illumination of the Spirit (i.e., in faith), the ‘instrumental cause’.62

Because the incarnation is of constitutive significance for the atonement, it follows that Christ’s redemptive work is finished: τετλεσται (John 19:30). All that was necessary to reconcile humankind to God has been accomplished. Reconciliation is already achieved and enjoyed.63 In Romans 5:10–11, reconciliation is spoken of as a work achieved decisively by the one act of Christ’s death.64 Alan Stibbs notes that in contrast to this position on the finished work of Christ, some maintain that Christ’s incarnate work

was but an expression in time or history of something which happens only fully in eternity; and that the eternal Son of God is, therefore, to be thought of as continually offering Himself to God in order to secure our acceptance in God’s presence.65

However, Stibbs responds to such views by contending that Christ’s atoning work has to deal with the effects of sin which are exposure to divine wrath and exclusion from the divine presence, and ‘Such consequences demand for their remedy a single decisive action rather than a continuous and eternal one’.66 This is of significance for the issues addressed in this chapter because it helps to substantiate the central assertion that atonement occurred in space and time as a single historical event forming the midpoint of salvation history and having an impact on all time and space.

The preceding discussion has highlighted the historical and objective nature of the atonement. However, there is also a subjective dimension to atonement.67 Christ’s work of redemption is accomplished already, but it is only in the subjective experience of faith in Christ that the atonement is appropriated by the individual.

The saving effect of Christ’s redemptive work only becomes effective in the life of a person, however, when it is appropriated by faith. The faith that unites people to Christ is itself a fruit of Christ’s saving work, distributed to the elect by the Spirit of God.68

The seventeenth century Protestant expression ‘Dempta applicatione, redemption non est redemption [sic]’ (without application redemption is not redemption), succinctly expresses this.69

  1. I use the term ‘crisis’ in the sense of ‘a crucial stage or turning point in the course of something, esp. in a sequence of events’ (The Collins Concise Dictionary).
  2. Part 2 of this article will be published in Themelios 33:3 (2008).
  3. Inclusivism affirms the ontological necessity of Christ for salvation, but disavows the epistemological necessity of knowing Christ for salvation.
  4. Jacques Dupuis, Toward a Christian Theology of Religious Pluralism (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1997), 219f, 229.
  5. Ibid., 233. Other theologians who adopt this Israel analogy include the Roman Catholic theologians Jean Daniélou, and Karl Rahner, the Protestant theologians J.N. Farquhar, and Carl Braaten, and the Evangelical theologians Clark Pinnock and Terrance Tiessen. Key works include Jean Daniélou, Holy Pagans of the Old Testament. trans. Felix Faber (London: Longmans, 1957), 4–7, 18–19. Jean Daniélou, The Salvation of the Nations (London: Sheed and Ward, 1949), 35. Karl Rahner, ‘Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions’, in Theological Investigations. Vol. 5, (London: DLT, 1966), 121. Rahner, ‘Christianity and the Non-Christian Religions’, 125–126, 130. Farquhar, John N. Papers Submitted to Commission Four of the World Missionary Conference, Edinburgh, 1910, # 153, 17, quoted in Paul Hedges, Preparation and Fulfilment: A History and Study of Fulfilment Theology in Modern British Thought in the Indian Context. (Oxford: Peter Lang, 2001), 286n347.John N. Farquhar, The Crown of Hinduism (London: Oxford University Press, 1913), 53–55, 457–58. Carl Braaten, No Other Gospel! (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 69. Clark Pinnock, A Wideness in God’s Mercy: The Finality of Jesus Christ in a World of Religions (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 21, 91–92, 105, 161, 163. Clark Pinnock, ‘Religious Pluralism: A Turn to the Holy Spirit’, Evangelical Theology Society 2002 Conference Paper Transcript (2002), 5–6. Clark Pinnock, ‘An Inclusivist View’, in Four Views on Salvation in a Pluralist World ed. by D. Okholm and R. Phillips (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 115. Ibid., 133, Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved?, 123–125, 155, 167–168, 198.
  6. I adopt the term ‘midpoint’ from Oscar Cullmann. It should be noted that the term does not imply an equal period of time both before and after this point. Cf. Hans Conzelman, The Theology of Saint Luke (New York: Harper & Row, 1961), which sees Jesus’ ministry as the ‘centre of time’. R.T. France describes Jesus as ‘the turning point of time’. R. T. France, Matthew: Evangelist and Teacher (Exeter: Paternoster, 1989), 197.
  7. G. E. Ladd writes, ‘There is a widespread recognition that revelation has occurred in redemptive history, and that Heilsgeschichte is the best key to understanding the unity of the Bible’ (A Theology of the New Testament [rev. ed.; Cambridge: Lutterworth, 1993], 4).
  8. David Baker, Two Testaments, One Bible. (Leicester: IV P, 1991), 241.
  9. Baker, Two Testaments, One Bible, 243.
  10. For a helpful introduction to the topic of the divine decree, see John Feinberg, No One Like Him (Wheaton: Crossway, 2001), 501–36. Cf. Paul Helm, ‘Of God’s Eternal Decree’, in Reformed Theology in Contemporary Perspective (ed. Lynn Quigley; Edinburgh: Rutherford House, 2006), 143–161.
  11. Robert Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Nelson, 1998), 343. Cf. Westminster Confession of Faith 3.1: ‘GOD from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass: yet so, as thereby neither is God the author of sin, nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established’.
  12. Ibid., 463.
  13. Ibid.
  14. While a distinction between ordinary (common or general) and special providence (or special grace) exists, care needs to be taken not to interpret these two kinds of providence to mean that God is conducting two works alongside each other with no relationship between them. Ordinary providence serves special. Ibid., 399f.
  15. Feinberg, No One Like Him, 531–36. Cf. Reymond, Systematic Theology, 379, 401. Within Reformed theology, a debate exists between those who support supralapsarianism and those who support infralapsarianism. ‘The difference concerns what happened in God’s mind before the foundation of the world. It does not concern something that happened in time, but rather the logical order of God’s thoughts. The question is whether, in logical order, (a) God decided first that he would save some people and second that he would allow sin into the world so that he could save them from it (the supralapsarian position), or whether it was the other way around, so that (b) God first decided that he would allow sin into the world and second decided that he would save some people from it (the infralapsarian position’ (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology [Leicester: IV P, 1994], 679n12). However, both positions maintain that the covenant of redemption precedes the fall.
  16. The ‘omega-point’ is a term Richard B. Gaffin uses to describe the death and resurrection of Christ (By Faith, Not By Sight: Paul and the Order of Salvation [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2006], 6).
  17. Thomas Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1981), 1. As Torrance argues, in every aspect of a theological account of God’s interaction with us in the world, time and space constitute the orderly medium for divine revelation to man and human knowledge of God. Cf. Eric Rust, Salvation History: A Biblical Interpretation (Richmond: John Knox, 1961), 127. Here, Rust highlights the meta-historical plan of redemption: ‘On the Biblical view, the time process must be measured in terms of the mighty acts of God and not of the evolutionary development of man. . . . The phrase preparatio evangelica has come of recent years to be coloured with an evolutionary significance, imposing on the situation the false category of progress rather than the Biblical conception of crisis. . . . The Biblical faith is based on the conviction that God is the Lord of history, able to control its events and movements in the interest of His purpose’.
  18. While the term ‘eschatology’ is commonly employed to refer to the ‘last things’, this excludes much that falls within the scope of the term. I use the term ‘eschatological’ here and throughout this essay in its broad sense, as defined by F. F. Bruce: Eschatology ‘may denote the consummation of God’s purpose whether it coincides with the end of the world (or of history) or not, whether the consummation is totally final or marks a stage in the unfolding pattern of his purpose’ (F. F. Bruce, ‘Eschatology’, in Evangelical Dictionary of Theology [ed. by Walter Elwell; Grand Rapids: Baker, 1984], 362).
  19. Herman Ridderbos, Paul: An Outline of His Theology (trans. John Richard De Witt; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975). Cf. D. A. Carson, ‘Mystery and Fulfillment: Toward a More Comprehensive Paradigm of Paul’s Understanding of the Old and New’, in The Paradoxes of Paul, vol. 2 of Justification and Variegated Nomism (ed. D. A. Carson, Peter T. O’Brien, and Mark A. Seifrid; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), see esp. 413–25.
  20. David Wells, God in the Wasteland (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994), 132n122.
  21. Ridderbos, Paul, 47. Herman Ridderbos emphasises this historical revelation: ‘The revelation of the mystery is nothing other than that which the fullness of the time brings to view; it is the fulfillment of the eschatological promise of redemption in the times appointed for it, its “own times”, that is denoted in this fashion.’ Ridderbos points out that Paul is echoing what Jesus proclaims as the ‘fulfillment of time’ (Mark 1:15) (48).
  22. F. F. Bruce, ‘Salvation history in the New Testament’, in Man and His Salvation (ed. Eric Sharpe and John Hinnells; Manchester: MUP, 1973), 82.
  23. A. A. Hoekema, The Bible and The Future (Exeter: Paternoster, 1978), 17. Hoekema supports this assertion with reference to 1 Cor 10:11; Heb 9:26; and 1 John 2:18.
  24. Ridderbos, Paul, 44.
  25. Herman Ridderbos, When The Time Had Fully Come (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2001), 48. ‘This is the new, overpowering certainty, that in the crucified and risen Savior the great turning-point has come. This is the main theme of Paul’s ministry and epistles. “Old things are passed away; behold they are become new” (2 Cor 5:17). . . . And of the “fullness of the times” (Gal 4:4), of this now of the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2), Paul is the herald (Eph 3:2ff.)’.
  26. Geerhardus Vos, ‘The Eschatological Aspect of the Pauline Conception of the Spirit’, in Redemptive History and Biblical Interpretation: The Shorter Writings of Geerhardos Vos: ed. by Richard B. Gaffin (Phillipsburg: P & R, 1980), 93.
  27. Rust, Salvation History, 158. Cf. Hoekema, The Bible and The Future, 18–20.
  28. Rust, Salvation History, 138
  29. Michael Horton, Covenant and Eschatology: The Divine Drama (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2002), 40.
  30. John Frame, ‘The Doctrine of the Christian Life’, Reformed Perspectives Magazine, 7:47 (2005), 262. Cf. Richard B Gaffin, Resurrection and Redemption: A Study in Paul’s Soteriology (2d ed.; Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1987), 91–92, 116. Gaffin states that the resurrection and ascension are separate occurrences, but the resurrection is integral to his subsequent mode of existence. What Christ is and continues to be he became at the resurrection and at no other point. His resurrection marks the completion of the once for all accomplishment of redemption.
  31. Gaffin, By Faith, 6f; cf. 7. Here Gaffin notes how this declaration, which embraces the entire message of Hebrews, captures three interrelated factors concerning God’s ‘speech’: ‘(1) Revelation is expressly in view as a historical process. (2) The diversity involved in this process is accented, particularly for old covenant revelation . . . by the two adverbs, translated “at many times and in various ways,” at the beginning of the construction in the Greek original. . . . (3) Christ is the “last days” endpoint of this history, the nothing-less-than eschatological goal of the entire redemptive-revelatory process’.
  32. Ridderbos, Time Fully Come, 50.
  33. Ridderbos writes, ‘When the approach is made from man, then it is no more the analysis of the history of redemption in Jesus Christ which reveals the real existence of man, but it is the analysis of man in his actual situation that serves as the criterion for what is acceptable in the history of salvation’ (ibid., 59).
  34. Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics: Sin and Salvation in Christ (ed. John Bolt; trans. John Vriend; Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006), 3:274.
  35. Ridderbos, Paul, 90.
  36. Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, 4:2:51, quoted in Bruce Marshall, Christology in Conflict: The Identity of a Saviour in Rahner and Barth (Oxford: Blackwell, 1987), 162. Cf. Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order (Leicester: Apollos, 1994), 15.
  37. Daniel Strange argues that overstressing continuity undermines the need for incarnation and atonement: ‘If the cross is not the source of God’s saving grace, then why is it needed? Does it effect salvation or does it merely reveal (albeit normatively) something already presupposed? Is it representative or constitutive?’ (The Possibility of Salvation Among the Unevangelized [Carlisle: Paternoster, 2002], 207).
  38. Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, 277.
  39. O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order, 55 (emphasis in original)
  40. Ibid.
  41. Willem VanGemeren, The Progress of Redemption (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1988), 62.
  42. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Covenants (Phillipsburg: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1980), 91.
  43. Torrance, Divine and Contingent Order, 136. Cf. Rust, Salvation History, 148–49.
  44. Thomas Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection (Edinburgh: Handsel, 1976), 21.
  45. Jonathan Edwards, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998), 1:573.
  46. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection. Torrance is quoting A. M. Ramsey, The Resurrection of Christ (1945), 31. Cf. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection, 32–35.
  47. However, I accept that it is not entirely clear how exactly this new universal situation actually changes the circumstances of individuals who are unaware of Christ.
  48. Rust, Salvation History, 214.
  49. The effect of the atonement is of such proportions that all benefit from it. John Murray, a prominent defender of limited atonement also argues that ‘The unbelieving and reprobate in this world enjoy numerous benefits that flow from the fact that Christ died and rose again. The mediatorial dominion of Christ is universal. Christ is head over all things and is given all authority in heaven and in earth’ John Murray, Redemption Accomplished and Applied (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1961), 61. Cf. Bruce Demarest, The Cross and Salvation (Wheaton: Crossway, 1997), 183; Henri Blocher, ‘The Scope Of Redemption and Modern Theology’, Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology, 9, 1 (1991)101. Here Blocher says ‘Calvinists who hold to a particular atonement can add that Christ died, in some respects, ‘for all human beings’, even for the reprobates: he did not settle their juridical debt, but he secured for them the benefits of this earthly life (the reprieve which God grants to the ‘old’ sinful world logically depends on redemption), and his sacrifice validly grounds an offer of salvation which they could receive – if only they wanted to’. Cf. Bavinck, Sin and Salvation, 470–475. ‘The Universal Significance of Particular Atonement’.
  50. Torrance, Space, Time and Resurrection, 36. Cf. 58. Here Torrance declares Jesus Christ was ‘none other than the Creator Word of God come as a creature within the world he had made. In the resurrection of Jesus we see that the saving act of God in the expiation of sin and guilt, in the vanquishing of death and all that destroys the creation, is joined to God’s act of creation. Redemption and creation come together at the resurrection……The vast significance of the crucifixion and resurrection emerges only as we see that here redemption and creation come completely together, in such a way that they gather up all the past and proleptically include the consummation of all things at the end’ (emphasis original). Cf. Thomas Torrance, ‘The Atonement, The Singularity of Christ, and the Finality of the Cross: The Atonement and the Moral Order’, in Universalism and the Doctrine of Hell ed. by Nigel M. De S. Cameron (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 234.
  51. Marshall, Christology in Conflict, vii.
  52. Donald G Bloesch, Jesus Christ: Saviour and Lord (Carlisle: Paternoster, 1997), 161.
  53. Ibid. Bloesch notes that the suffering of Christ during his life was also atoning but only in an anticipatory sense (Heb 5:8–9).
  54. Murray, Redemption, 52.
  55. Ibid.
  56. Ibid., 52–53.
  57. Ibid., 53.
  58. Torrance, ‘The Atonement’, 234–235. ‘It is the oneness of the sacrifice of God the Father with the sacrifice of his incarnate Son that stamps the cross with its decisive and ultimate finality. It was at once eternal and historical in its once-forall character—that is why the New Testament can speak of the Lamb of God who bore our sins on the cross as slain before the foundation of the world’.
  59. However, redemption is applied contemporaneously (see below).
  60. Daniel Clendenin, Many Gods, Many Lords: Christianity Encounters World Religions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995), 125. The Westminster Confession of Faith (8.6) succinctly articulates this great truth: ‘Although the work of redemption was not actually wrought by Christ till after his incarnation, yet the virtue, efficacy, and benefits thereof were communicated unto the elect, in all ages successively from the beginning of the world’.
  61. Torrance, ‘The Atonement’, 233 (emphasis in original).
  62. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (trans. Henry Beveridge; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1989), 3.14.21.
  63. P. T. Forsyth, The Work of Christ (London: Collins, 1948), 86. Forsyth writes, ‘Reconciliation was finished in Christ’s death. Paul did not preach a gradual reconciliation. He preached what the old divines used to call the finished work. . . . He preached something done once for all—a reconciliation which is the base of every soul’s reconcilement. . . . What the Church has to do is to appropriate the thing that has been finally and universally done’. Cf. Jonathan Edwards: ‘Christ finished the purchase of redemption while in his state of humiliation here on earth’ (The Works of Jonathan Edwards: A History of the Work of Redemption [ed. John F. Wilson; New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989], 9:333).
  64. Alan Stibbs, The Finished Work Of Christ (London: Tyndale, 1952), 38–40.
  65. Ibid., 5.
  66. Ibid., 9. Cf. Murray, Redemption, 11ff. Murray considers why the atonement was necessary and suggests there are two main answers to this question. The first he calls ‘hypothetical necessity’: God could forgive sin and save the elect without atonement or satisfaction, but he chose to do it through the vicarious sacrifice of his son because this is the way in which ‘the greatest number of advantages occur and the way in which grace us more marvellously exhibited’ (11). The second is termed ‘consequent absolute necessity’: God’s choice to save some was consequent since it was his free choice and not of absolute necessity; it is absolute in that having elected some to salvation, there was the necessity to accomplish this purpose through the sacrifice of his Son—a necessity arising from the perfections of his own nature. ‘[W]hile it was not inherently necessary for God to save, yet, since salvation had been purposed, it was necessary to secure this salvation through a satisfaction that could be rendered only through substitutionary sacrifice and blood-brought redemption’ (12). Cf. Stibbs, The Finished Work of Christ, 9. Stibbs draws on the work of Oscar Cullmann’s Christ and Time here. ‘Here,’ he says, ‘in the final analysis lies the “offense” of the primitive Christian view of time and history, not only for the historian, but for all “modern” thinking, including theological thinking: the offense is that God reveals Himself in a special way, and effects “salvation” in a final way, within a narrowly limited but continuing process’ (23). Also: ‘… all points of this redemptive line are related to the one historical fact at the midpoint, a fact which precisely in its unrepeatable character, which marks all historical events, is decisive for salvation. This fact is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ’ (32f). Again, this idea of a ‘kairos’, or definite point of time especially favourable for an undertaking, and central in the divine plan of salvation, is found connected with the work which the incarnate Christ performed not only in the subsequent faith of the Church. ‘Rather,’ says Cullman, ‘Jesus Himself, according to the Synoptic witness, characterizes His passion as His “kairos”‘ (30–41). Similarly, ‘in the numerous Johannine passages in which Jesus speaks of His “hour” . . . in every case the hour of His death is meant’ (43f.). So Oscar Cullmann would have us realize on the one hand, that Jesus really ‘regarded His own death as the decisive point in the divine plan of salvation,’ (148f) and, on the other hand, that what he calls the one great Christological heresy both of ancient and modern times is that wider Docetism, which has at its root ‘the failure to respect the historically unique character of the redemptive deed of Christ’ (127). Stibbs, Finished Work, 9f., quoting Cullmann, Christ and Time.
  67. See for example, Bloesch, Jesus Christ, 162.
  68. Terrance Tiessen, Who Can Be Saved? Reassessing Salvation in Christ and World Religions (Downers Grove: IV P, 2004), 257.
  69. Cited by Gaffin, By Faith, 20. Note: redemption should be redemptio.

Adam Sparks

Adam Sparks completed his PhD (Theology of Religions) at Bristol University in 2007, under the supervision of Professor Gavin D’Costa. He has been a part-time tutor at Bristol University and is currently a part-time sessional lecturer at the University of London (Birkbeck College). This article is an updated section of his thesis.

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